After a two-year hiatus, Canada’s team returned to the Bell Centre to play an exhibition game against the New York Knicks in Montreal this past Friday, Oct. 24.The Raptors came into the game blistering hot, and did not leave the sold-out crowd disappointed, scratching out an 83-80 win despite poor shooting performances from several key players.
With the win, Toronto finished off the pre-season sitting atop the league standings with a record of 7-1—tying its franchise record for most pre-season victories. For Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the heartbreak and agony of last year’s Game 7 loss is quickly receding into the distance. The Raptors are ready to shed their underdog identity and embrace the ways of a winning franchise.
Montreal was the second stop in Canada for the Raptors this pre-season, after facing off against the Sacramento Kings in Vancouver on Oct. 5. Toronto’s General Manager Masai Ujiri hopes it will not be the team’s last visit.
“We want to be Canada’s team, and we feel the welcome everywhere we’ve been,” Ujiri said. “It’s not just Toronto—we are ‘One team, one country.’ We’re blessed […] with this unique opportunity […] and we have to turn it into an advantage instead of crying that we’re the only team in the NBA that’s not in the [United States].”
Indeed, the atmosphere in the Bell Centre could have been mistaken for a home game at the Air Canada Centre, with thousands of Raptors fans and Montrealers coming out to see their team win. Carmelo Anthony, however, had other plans, draining jumper after jumper as the Knicks entered the half up by eight points. Anthony would finish with a game-high 24 points, shooting a robust 47 per cent from the floor on the night.
Coming out of halftime, there was a noticeable increase in the level of intensity from Toronto’s players. After sitting out most of the first half, sparkplug point guard Greivis Vasquez came onto the floor and immediately had an impact as the Raptors held the Knicks to just 11 points through the third quarter. Last season, the combination of Lowry and Vasquez yielded incredible results, outscoring opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions, and defending at a level on par with Indiana’s league-best defence.
After watching veteran power forward Amar’e Stoudemire air ball a wide-open shot towards the end of the third quarter, new Knicks Head Coach Derek Fisher became visibly upset, pacing onto the court and looking anxious to sub into the game.
“The effort tonight was where we want it to be,” Fisher said. “But we need to focus on our attention to detail. We let it go in the third quarter. We got frustrated with the ball not going in [on] our offensive end, and our defence got really poor.”
The Knicks managed to pull even in the fourth quarter, but a gutsy fade-away shot from newly acquired shooting guard Lou Williams quelled the New York rally. Minutes later, a Shane Larkin turnover would seal the game for the Raptors.
Aside from being in the same division, the Raptors and the Knicks are closely connected by a long history of trades. The Knicks roster for this exhibition game featured a handful of former Raptors, including Andrea Bargani, Jose Calderon, and Quincy Acy.
Acy, a fan-favourite in Toronto last season, had a big game for the Knicks, pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds. Notorious for throwing down thunderous put-back dunks with the Raptors, Acy showed off a new facet of his game on Friday, making an impact with his shooting.
“[I’ve] been working on my game this summer, expanding my range,” Acy said. “If I’m open I’m taking the shot. This is my third year [in the league] so I’m trying to see what it’s going to take for me to stick around.”
He gave credit to Coach Fisher’s confidence in him for the transformation.
“He wants me to keep up the energy on defence […] and [he] wants me to step up and take the open shots when they come,” Acy said.
Toronto will host the Atlanta Hawks in its home opener at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, Oct. 29. The Knicks will face the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Oct. 29 to kick off their season.